FrankenJeep or "My Last Ever (Maybe) Truck?" | OVERLAND BOUND COMMUNITY

FrankenJeep or "My Last Ever (Maybe) Truck?"

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Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
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16191

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KN4RRX
Thought I'd take a stab at doing a build thread, after reading through so many excellent ones on this and other sites. However, since I'm such a wordy busterd (term coined by my masters program adviser), it's probably not the typical build-thread.
Also... as I've discovered, what works on Rig A won't necessarily work on Rig B... even if Rig B is really similar... so there may be a lack of specification evident. I'm happy to share info, but for the most part, what gee-whatzis I used may not be all that helpful to those building their own rigs, other than as a verification that "yep" that'll work.

It starts, as many epic adventures seem to, with a couple of guys sitting around and one says, "...wouldn't it be cool if...?". I really can't recall if it was me or the other guy, but I'm blaming it--and all subsequent expenditures--on him.
The conversation was about how pi$$ed off we were about planned-obsolescence and the fact that nothing is made to last these days. He and I both see it in our everyday work life (me as a Maintenance/Reliability Manager, him as the owner of a 4x4 custom shop). I had spent a lot of time in said shop while working up a Tacoma light-overland vehicle. I love the Taco, but was bemoaning the fact that I'd ever parted with my '91 Dodge Cummins 250 and he said something along the lines of, "well, we were thinking about getting back into the full-on custom build business... What would be on your wishlist?". <<See? Now that's what we call sneaky>>
I thought, "Ok... I'll play." I started ticking off items: It has to be stone-simple in the sense that the first tool (likely a hammer) being a stone... "over built" drivetrain, Diesel power, no ECU, no power windows, no electronic transmission control, no "exotic" wear items (off-the-shelf parts), seating for 2--maybe 2.5--people, flat bed, heavy duty frame, exo-cage/rack, decent clearance, bomb-proof leaf suspension and integrated stupid-proof armor. "Ookkkaayyyy... what about the chassis?", he asks. "Don't care... completely ambivalent, as long as its legal."
How's it gonna be used? <<see how he cleverly went from "would" be, to "gonna" be, there?>>
Overland style camping, daily driving, 2000 mile trips, BLM and Forest Service exploring... pretty much everything except technical rock crawling and needle-threading trail work.
I'm thinking full-width heavy duty axles with air lockers. Dana 60 minimums... hey, we're just talking here, right?
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

16191

Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
We talk back and forth over a couple of weeks and I thought, "Hey... can't hurt to do some quick drawings in CAD just to see what it might look like." The more I draw, the more interested I got.
Roy, being a friend and not just a business owner, says something along the lines of , "Dude, you gotta start with a fairly solid budget in mind or these things can wind up being a money pit."
Having been AROUND a lot of custom trucks--never owning one--I'd seen that costs on this sort of thing can increase faster than EGTs on a stroker B-block, sporting 5x022s and an HX25, towing 15k pounds up US550 out of Ouray, Co.
In short, REAL quick.
We also had a talk about intelligent compromise. No-Budget builds... as in Unlimited $$s... don't have to be concerned with compromises. The rest of us will all have to compromise in areas. Best to do some thinking up front about where you WILL and where you WON'T compromise.
"Okay... lemme mull it over.".

How do you go about figuring out a budget for something expensive but completely unnecessary like this? How do you decide where the wiggle room is on compromise?
Budget first... I decided to proceed thusly: I spent the next weekend visiting every Chevy, Ford and Dodge dealer, looking at the MSRP on trucks that I would NOT be buying. I then said to myself, "Self---that's what I call myself--You are 46 years old. Given that you probly have a good 20 years worth of driving left, you'd likely own at least TWO of these trucks and the second will cost approximately 170% of the purchase price of the 2018 model. This is based on historic pricing. If you get a really good deal on a 2500 4x4 with mid-level trim, you're in the mid-50k range (which is COMPLETE bull$#!+ given the reliability headaches from the regulatorily required emissions gadgetry. ANYWAY, factoring in depreciation and resale value, average inflation percentage, blah-blah-blah... I came up with... a pretty big freakin' number. YMoMJMD... Your method of monetary justification may differ, but suffice to say, with this set of inputs, building a custom vehicle at least passes my initial financial sniff-test. As Mark Twain--sort of--said (stealing from the 1st Earl of Balfour), "There are three kinds of falsehoods, lies, damned lies, and statistics". But using them to help justify a decision I've already made my mind up about?... perfectly acceptable.

I've DRIVEN diesels for years. I have several degrees, certifications, attaboys and other largely worthless pieces of paper. With Comm/Electronics type stuff, I'm aces. General practical engineering and reliability, I'm your guy. The one thing I'm REALLY good at (generally), though, is finding folks who are a LOT better than I am at stuff. Me?... I'm just smart enough to realize what I'm not smart about.
So self (that's what I call myself), repeat after me... I AM NOT A FABRICATOR OR ENGINE BUILDER.
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

16191

Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
Luckily, Roy's Boys... that's "boys" in the gender sense, not age or experience... are most DEFINITELY fabricators and dream builders. They've been doing this stuff for a long time. So IF I decide to actually go through with this thing (yeah, right), the fab and assembly are in good hands. But a well-designed rig needs a power plant... even if it's only a theoretical rig... right?

Might as well at least investigate an engine. Lots of good diesel manufacturers out there. Loved the B-block cummins, but this isn't gonna be a heavy-hauler. Let's look at sub-5 liter diesels out there. Isuzu, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Cummins... Wait... Cummins!... and a B-block with the back 2 cylinders missing. That's what?... almost 4 liters. Let's start there.

Much research was done. Many websites studied (included THIS one). Who's out there building these things? Turns out there were literally tons of builders. Parts are ubiquitous and most cross over with the good ol' 5.9.
Long story longer, I culled the list of 20 plus nationwide builders down to 5 or 6 and started calling, asking questions, requesting references and generally making a pest of myself. After a month or so, the two builders that would still talk to me got calls for request for quotes. I mean... Heck, I gotta know what this thing would cost... ya know? I'd explained that the primary goals were reliability and manageable EGTs, torque, mileage and "I don't give a damn what the horsepower is." I wanted two quotes... one mostly stock and one, as I described it to them "mid-range performance engine", still keeping in mind the primary goals. Both builders turned the quotes around in record time. I HATE it when they're so punctual and don't give me time to talk myself out of things like this.
"Self...", remember, that's what I call myself... "...Which of these options would you choose?" I mean, if I WERE going to choose.

How to decide between two such widely separated options? I came up with a "level-the-playing-field measure".
I don't care about horsepower--that's for the gassers and drag racers to argue over.
I DO care about moving my ASSets from one place to another, which is torque territory.
So how about comparing the two "guaranteed" torque specs versus build cost.
Turns out the cost-per-guaranteed-pound-foot was 21% less expensive for the higher end engine from the more experience builder.
So with just about 3 seconds thought, I blurted out, "Sign me up, Mr. Engine Builder!"

Crap... "Roy, I bought an engine."

Ok, Guess we're really gonna do this.
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

16191

Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
Tranny? (no, not THAT kind, though there's nothing wrong with it... Hey, I still listen to 1988 Twisted Sister and Dee Snyder WAS that kind of tranny back when it wasn't so common).
TRANSMISSION!! Manual or Automagic. I've been an avowed manual driver with almost all of my vehicles. But ya know... sometimes, manuals just pi$$ me off. Clutching in stop-and-go traffic, particularly, as the ankles and knees get close to half a century old. Hey though... that "no electronics" design edict kinda narrows the field. You know, that 47RH that was in the old '91 Cummins was a workhorse. I could wire up a switch for overdrive and get a lockup torque converter.
Wonder if anyone still has any of those old RHs that they're remanufacturing? Revmax, Suncoast, ATS... all of them. BUUT, they all have REs... 'Member my "as few electronics as possible?" design principle? -E stands for Evil. "WAIT!", says Revmax... "We have one 47RH in back stock... we can have it to you in a week with the mods you're requesting." SCORE!!!

"Crap... Roy, I bought a transmission."
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

16191

Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
What about wheel base?... Longer than a Wrangler, shorter than a Ram. So that puts us between 93.4 and 140.5... how 'bout 115-ish kinda in the middle? Well... lets just throw that sucker in a CAD program and see what it might look like when I get it all set up for booney-stompin'.
Looks good--slightly longer than my Tacoma regular cab. Flat bed makes me think of the Scrambler and how good it could have been...
Then Roy says, "you know... I know a guy that does aluminum tubs for jeeps... check these out." Enter Aqualu/HardBody 4x4... "Holy crap did you see the tub on that CJ?"
**Funny how our attractions change as we get older**.
Cool--so we have a cab assembly in mind (GR8 Tops makes a fiberglass half-top for the two-seater cab-tub).
Well crap again... more shiny metal on the way!

Flatbed, build or buy? Great question... Since the rig won't primarily be a hauler (unless, you're talking haulin' a$$... no I don't speed, but have you seen my girlfriend? She's about an axe-handle across her Jane Brown hind parts), but I'm off topic. Since it won't primarily be a hauling VEHICLE, something light weight is in order. Aluminum... cool, let's look at custom aluminum flatbeds. WOWZERS!! Ok, let's step back to SEMI-custom and the over-the-counter varieties! Way back when, about 2002, I investigated a flatbed for my (then) new '02 Dodge. Some guy was importing a modular / configurable aluminum flatbed from Australia. No WAY they're still in business in THIS economy. "Ring Ring... Hello, this is Randy with UTE, how can I help you?" Crap... "Roy, I bought a flatbed."
 
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Ta2Doc

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Member

Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

16191

Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
Alrighty, so I'm seeing all KINDS of really awesome trucks built up using Aqualu / Hardbody 4x4 rear tub-beds... kind of like a divorced-cab Scrambler. What chassis length are those?... Strangely-enough, 115-ish! How Serendipitous!
Roy again starts off a sentence with, "I know a guy who..."

Well, crap. Let's buy the frame.

Not too long later, there was an absolutely beautifully-fabricated Scrambler-ish frame setting on the shop floor from Throttle Down Kustoms.
"We it widened about 3 inches in the front so the leafs could set directly under the frame". Uh oh... this is gettin' serious.

We actually got TWO of them, in the hopes that they'd breed and we'd have lil bitty CJ3 frames, but alas, one of them was sterile. We're not sure which one.

TJ8-Frames-rs.jpg
 
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Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

16191

Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
mmmKAY.... time to think about running gear. Strength-wise, a well-built Dana 60 is my benchmark. So I started there. I combed through lots of information, lusting over names like "Currie", "Dynatrac", etc...
Beautiful stuff. Almost pornographically attractive, as far as axles go... But dang! Those prices!
We went back to base design principles from (now) a month ago...
SIMPLE, NO exotic parts... Overbuilt... hmm... sounds military.
This time, Roy says, "I know a buy named Boyce who..."

In just about the gestation period of a field mouse, there was big ol' pallet with a beefy kingpin Dana 60 front and a 14 bolt rear, both carrying 3.73s and ARBs.


TJ8-Axles-rs.jpg
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
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Robinette
Member #

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This is when bits start arriving in earnest... Tub, transmission... "Wait, how we gonna make wipers work with that tub, there aren't any hidey-holes for the wiper assembly under the cowl?" We'll figure that out later!

TJ8-TruckTub-rs.jpg
 
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Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
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Brady
Last Name
Robinette
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So then, let's start by setting the gorgeous tub up on the frame... body mounts look like they're fine, since Aqualu/Hardbody does great fab work.
YJ length spring pack over the axle and a shackle reversal...

TJ8-FrntPassQtr-rs.jpg
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

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Georgetown, KY, USA
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Brady
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Robinette
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hmm... that's room for 37's, but dang, I'm getting old... knees still in good shape, but never know... let's back it back down to 35s... that'll knock an inch off and that's gotta be better for the knees, right? In the meantime, let's put it on 33s so we can roll it around. Depending on how that Cummins likes the rpm range, might even go to 255/85s, depending on clearance under that 14 bolt rear diff...

TJ8-Roller-rs.jpg
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
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Robinette
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Ok... gotta have room for all this crap that's hitting the shop... Let's heave that luscious hunk of 'Lumneum bed up on the back, throw some wood blocks under it until it looks like it sets right. There... that's about right. Welp... she's kinda... umm... misshapen. About 6 inches too long... and a foot too wide.
Lucky for us, it's modular and the slats are JUUUUST about 6 inches too wide, but we can cut her down a bit. Plus, we can find a use for that pretty aluminum later... Nice.
TJ8-RollerTopAndBed-rs.jpg
 
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Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

16191

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KN4RRX
Tranny! This is one tranny that should never be heard singing "we're not gonna take it..." and I shouldn't hear it singing "Tear It Loose" (another from the way--back Twisted Sister file. Danny Snyder and crew ROCK!

TJ8-47RH-rs.jpg
 
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Ta2Doc

Rank V
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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

16191

Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
Frame, axles, wheels, tranny, bed. We got a roller... but where's that engine?
Ok, time to bug the engine guy. Ring... Ring... Umm... what...? He did WHAT??!! Retired?!?! But... but...? "Oh wait... you're THAT guy. Yeah, that one's being finished up and should ship next week. Robbie retired and had a bunch of cool parts and gee-whizzes laying around the shop that wound up going on your engine." SCORE!!
About a week goes by and Roy calls and says, "They sent the wrong engine." Blood pressure goes through the roof... What. Do. You. Mean. Wrong ENGINE?? "Well, this one has a bunch of stainless and pretty stuff and I know that's not your thing."
WHEW! Nope, that's mine... I accidentally got some bling thrown in.

ACD-4bt-rs.jpg
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

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Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
I dunno... that engine's pretty tall, are we gonna have to cut a hole in the hood? Let's see, I think if we tilt it back a bit and drop it down between the frame rails, we might just be able to make enough room to close the hood.
4bt-temp-rs.jpg
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

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Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
Fortuitously,we had a rear-wrecked totaled TJ for the rest of the top side hard-parts... important stuff like doors, hood and windshield.
Hey, those 35s came in. HO-LEY mother of altitude, Batman... this girl has LONG legs!! That, ladies and gentlemen, is a 38 inch step-in height, and I'ma fat old guy with a 32 inseam... I foresee chain loop "helper" steps in my immediate future. But hey... who doesn't like a long legged redhead in high heels?

TJ8-FullRoller-rs.jpg
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
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Brady
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Robinette
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16191

Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
Ok engine's fitting perfect! Wait!! Do we have enough room for the cores up front? Umm... Yeah, I believe we'll have enough room. Looks like a good 16 inches from the pulleys to the grill. 20 years ago, I could'a stood up in there, but I'm a wee too wide for that these days.

TJ8-4btIN-rs.jpg
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

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Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
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Ok... engine secure, transmission bolted up. Now we can start thinking about drivelines... but first, what are we doing for a Tcase?
Well, we haven't taken any real shortcuts up to this point. A top-flight rebuild on a np203 and 205, plus the cost of a doubler kit is within spitting distance of a new-manufactured Atlas.
After 3 weeks of back and forth with the guys at Advanced Adapter (geez, there's a lot of measuring and figgering to this!), we're finally on their 6 week calendar for that beautiful bit of aluminum and steel.

Take a step back... wonder if we'll have tire clearance issues... Errm... unlikely.

TJ8-FrontView-rs.jpg
 

Ta2Doc

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Off-Road Ranger I

1,488
Georgetown, KY, USA
First Name
Brady
Last Name
Robinette
Member #

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Ham Callsign
KN4RRX
Now, about that stupid-proof armor... Gotta have the exo-cage integrated... and might as well make those rocker sliders out of 2x4 dom while we're at it, huh? Just so we have a nice sturdy base.
Now that we're thinking about it... let's just consider it a secondary frame and build it up as such. Wanna be able to jack the whole vehicle up from any point along there.
Still have more bracing and tying together to do here, but you get the general idea... BEEF.
You can kinda make out that trick angled remote battery bank carrier amid-ships. She'll eventually hold 4 days worth of lithium (the battery chemistry, not the drug).

TJ8-2ndFrame-rs.jpg